1 in 7 adults in this country are caring for both an aging parent along with their own children. In many cases, it’s the setup for caregiver burnout. What happens is you withdraw from family and friends. Being a caregiver might be the ultimate test of patience and perseverance. And, if your care receiver has Alzheimer’s or another dementia related disease, you might as well accept the fact that you’re going to have moments when you’re not only angry with them, you’re going to also feel resentful and angry with the entire world. You may also experience worry, loneliness, grief and defensiveness.
- “Is it normal to feel this way?”
- “Am I doing my best I can?”
Being pulled in several directions creates a heightened sense of anxiety, that can manifest itself in sleep deprivation, depression or excessive use of drugs or alcohol. All things that increase general health risks. It sounds simple but the first step in feeling better is to recognize the issue. Caregivers get so caught up in managing their daily schedules that they don’t take time to look at the big picture and schedule their own breaks. One of the unique aspects of caring for somebody with chronic disease is that caregivers almost always feel guilty in some way. It’s the disease itself and the kind of care that people need causes that guilt in caregivers. You have to realize that it’s okay to get annoyed because you are doing the best you can.
What can you do? Trying to maintain your balance in an unpredictable and ever-changing environment is tricky, at best, and sometimes we don’t succeed. So, if we can agree that getting angry and feeling frustrated with your care receiver is inevitable, then the next step is to figure out how to deal with it. Doing so helps your emotions to not completely take over and result in harm to you or to your care receiver. What you can do to get out of this trap of guilt is to understand that changes in behavior are part of long-term illness. You should understand that it’s the disease that’s changing the person, and that they’re not doing things on purpose. Your anger and frustration is often in response to these changes that the disease is producing.
Another thing you can do is to develop realistic expectations and modify them as the disease progresses. And, if you can adapt to how they’re changing in the fact that they can no longer do things that they did yesterday or last month, it can help lessen the likelihood that you’ll be frustrated and lower the likelihood that you’ll become guilty or down on yourself. One of the hardest things to adapt to is that the disease often takes away a person’s social graces. People do things that they never would have done before. And, that’s hard to adapt to. But once you accept new behaviors and the loss of social skills, it will help lessen your feeling of guilt and resentful. When your care receiver is displaying challenging behaviors, try to stay calm. Remind yourself, it’s the disease, not the person. Don’t let their behavior knock you off balance.
Now, this is nearly impossible to do alone, so get involved in a caregiver support group that has a trained leader. Someone who has knowledge of the disease and the effects it has on people will help you understand the behavior. And, they’ll be able to make suggestions that will help you respond in a manner that diffuses problems, rather than escalating them. Last but not least, remember caregiving is about love. It helps put caregiving in the right context to help you realize that part of our doing it is coming out of the love and the caring that we have for the ill person. If we can put aside some of the frustration and guilt and anger, and the love is still there, the reward of caregiving then can come to the forefront.